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Are cities the key to a sustainable future?

Bruce Katz is no fan of the federal government. 

With comments such as “the national government, like Elvis, has left the building,” the Brookings Institution executive and author emphasized during his talk at Portland State that the politics at play in Washington D.C. have created a vacuum of policy leadership in the U.S. 

That vacuum, Katz says, is begging to be filled by leadership from cities. 

“The Metropolitan Revolution,” a book co-authored by Katz, examines the leadership exhibited by cities—including Portland—and the crucial role it will play in creating future economic growth. 

Katz was in Portland this week to meet with a variety of officials and provide insight into ways the city can position itself for economic success. 

“Portland is a critical story,” said Katz Wednesday. “People think it’s Portlandia, that it’s really weird and crunchy. But you attracted many people here who wanted to be a part of an environmental community.” 

As a result, Katz said, Portland now has a dozens of environmentally oriented businesses and organization and wealth of expertise that can be exported for economic gain. 

Katz sat on a panel with Portland State graduate students and recent alumni in an event organized by First Stop Portland, which hosts tours for delegations visiting the city. 

Jamaal Green, Ph.D. student in Urban Studies and a PSU IGERT fellow, discussed research he’s done on food insecurity in East Portland and raised the question of whether or not urban progress and prosperity is coming at the cost of suburban poverty.  

Ashlie Denton, Ph.D. student in Public Affairs and Policy and also an IGERT fellow, discussed the potential for unintended consequences of policy conceived in urban areas potentially putting pressure on rural areas. 

Nate Forst, a recent PSU MBA graduate and research and development lead for PSU’s Community Environmental Services unit, discussed the opportunity for innovation in secondary commodities—waste materials that are currently shipped overseas—and the important roll of an urban serving university.  

“Urban serving universities are an unrecognized national treasure,” Katz said. 

He emphasized that urban universities bring evidence-driven leadership on regional policy, a point made by PSU President Wim Wiewel, who emphasized PSU’s own sustainability leadership in a recent article for Presidential Perspectives

Katz made the point that universities like PSU are assets to their communities at a time when a new economic era, one driven by metropolitan regions instead of a centralized government, is getting off the ground.